Staying Happy and Healthy During the Winter and Holiday Season
As the seasons change, so do we. The fall into winter seasons, especially during the holidays, is the most difficult time to get through for some people. With short days, coldness, and little sunlight, people just get SAD. Yes, it is a legit diagnosis known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or the winter blues. Typically, the farther away you live from the equator, or in the northern part of the country, chances are you are more likely to experience SAD. You may also have a predisposition to getting the winter blues if you have a family history of depression.
Research shows that people who experience SAD have a decrease in serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter which helps to balance your mood, and experience an increase of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, a pea-size-shaped gland located in the center of your brain behind your eyes, also referred to as the third eye. Melatonin is activated by darkness which induces sleepiness or lethargy.
With that being said, your body clock, also known as your Circadian Rhythm, is thrown off as the days get shorter and nights get longer. Circadian rhythm is a 24-hour body clock designed to be in sync with nature. When you are not in sync, you do not sleep well; you have issues with weight and/or digestion; you are prone to depression; you may feel heavy, lazy, lethargy.
So, you are not alone, and it is not your fault. The good news is that you can break free from this funk with these simple strategies:
1. Get to bed by 10 pm and wake up by 7 am. You can purchase a sunrise alarm clock if you have trouble waking up while it’s still dark out.
2. Meditate for at least three minutes before you go to bed if you have trouble falling asleep.
3. Go for a morning walk or do some sun salutations to get you moving.
4. Eat a light breakfast. Stay away from anything that will make you feel sluggish like a sugary bowl of cereal.
5. Your main meal should be at lunchtime. Rice with lentils or mung beans and vegetables seasoned with “hot” spices such as cumin, ginger, pepper is ideal and is also a very satisfying meal.
6. Finish eating a light dinner no later than 7 pm to give your body time to digest your food before you go to bed.
7. Get your cardio in, whatever you enjoy doing, as long as you get your heart rate up. Ideal time for cardio in the morning is between 6 am to 10 am, or if you’re an evening person, right before dinnertime is good too.
8. Give yourself time to wind down before bedtime. Turn off screens. Read inspirational books.
As my teacher says, “Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life.” Implementing these simple steps will completely change your life. You will sleep better, eat better, manage your weight more effectively, and balance your levels of stress, and be in sync with your body clock as nature intended.
According to the Yoga Sutras, once you identify the object that causes you emotional suffering and pain, you can separate from it and begin the healing process. That object is an impression also known as a Samskara. Your impressions our often colored by the world and your emotions become heightened by these distractions distorting the original object. I know this sounds a little deep but trust me and meditate on this. See if you can find the object, the source, of your emotions. Try to separate from it. Ask yourself questions like, What are my actions guided by? What are my emotions guided by? Are my negative thoughts about myself really true? Then ask yourself, What inspires me? Am I better than I was yesterday? Do I have value or a purpose for something or someone in my life right now? It’s okay if you don’t have the answers. Just begin to think and contemplate and journal if you would like to help sort out your thoughts and feelings.
In addition, having a Satsang, surrounding yourself with people who support, love, and inspire you is very important and nourishing to your soul. Nowadays, it’s easy to join groups or classes online if you can’t find support at home. If you’re interested in yoga philosophy and way of life, I recommend Sutra and Gita classes. If you have always had a passion to take an art class or learn a new language or maybe even pursue a college degree, I would encourage you to follow your passion.
In summary, when you find yourself feeling the winter blues, do a self-check of your own Circadian Rhythm, find the original source or the object or your emotions, and notice where you can apply some changes. As you begin to implement these changes, chances are you’ll have an increase in your serotonin levels and a decrease in your melatonin levels which will allow your body clock to be in a state of balance or in harmony with nature, and it will soon bring out the warrior in you to be able to face and overcome any emotional challenges standing in your way. If you follow these simple guidelines, you can enjoy a life full of vitality, bursting with passion, love, and happiness.
Melrose S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015, 178564. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/178564
Kshirsagar, S. G., Seaton, M. D., & Chopra, D. (2019). Change your schedule, change your life: How to harness the power of clock genes to lose weight, optimize your workout, and finally get a good night's sleep. New York, NY: Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Hari Dass, Baba & Diffenbaugh, Dayanand. (1999). The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, Book 1, Samadhi Pada.